by Rev. Matthew Best

This the passage that was going through my head as I walked through the streets of a village in Guatemala on a recent trip.

It was a poor village, just up the hill from an orphanage. The orphanage provides food for many of the children in the village.

“Blessed are the poor…”

It’s Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. There’s no wiggle room in this version. No middle-class room for debate or way to comfort ourselves out of the discomfort of poverty with this. Nope, Luke just makes it plain and simple: Blessed are the poor.

Here’s the full version:

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,

   for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,

   for you will be filled.

‘Blessed are you who weep now,

   for you will laugh.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

‘But woe to you who are rich,

   for you have received your consolation.

‘Woe to you who are full now,

   for you will be hungry.

‘Woe to you who are laughing now,

   for you will mourn and weep.”

The contrast is quite clear. There’s no avoiding it. There’s no squirming away from it. It is just like the poverty I come face to face with when I walk the streets in a place like this Guatemalan village. There is no escape from it, no matter how hard we try. No matter how many excuses we make. No matter how many scapegoats we create. No matter how much spin. No matter how much we debate individual effort versus group responsibility and systems.

It doesn’t matter.

These people are living it every day and will continue. All our words don’t matter. Because our words are designed for one thing … to help us to avoid our own discomfort with their poverty.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

As I walked through the streets of this village, we came across a house and checked in with a family. One of the girls was not at the school that morning. How was she? I looked in. The village sits on the side of a hill. The house, if you want to call it that (dirt floors with tin and boards for the structure), was missing an entire side. It had been washed away recently in a rainstorm. One complete side of their house was gone.

And in its place was an incredible view of the valley below.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

Extreme poverty is something most Americans have little to no experience with. I am willing to bet most Americans would be in culture shock with this kind of poverty. I would bet most Americans would want to run away. It would be too much, a shock to the system. But maybe that is exactly what we Americans need – a shock. Maybe we need many shocks to wake up to reality, the reality that so many people in the world are living in great poverty. That so many people in the world are poor. That so many people in the world do not have what Americans have – the luxury of avoiding discomfort.

It is really easy for us to focus on the blessings in the Beatitudes. Who doesn’t want blessings after all? But the blessings are also linked with the woes. The first one being Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. In other words, you who have been able to avoid discomfort … the time is coming when you will not be able to do so. And the sad thing is, you won’t know what to do, and no one will be there to comfort you in the midst of it.

The older I get the more I realize it is a waste of time to think I can change anyone’s mind. One of Jesus’ parables is quickly becoming a favorite of mine – the parable of the unjust judge and a woman who is a pain in the ass to the judge. She gets her way not by convincing him, or changing his mind or heart, or because he decides to do the right thing for the right reason. No, he is a jerk and will remain a jerk.

He gives her want she wants because she does not quit and wears him out. Her cause is just. That is what keeps her going. Evil is exhausting. People who follow that path will look for the easy way out. And they will quit.

Let whose who have ears hear.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who are a pain in the ass for justice’s sake, for yours is character that just won’t quit.

+++++++++++++

Rev. Matthew Best is a rostered leader in the ELCA. Read more on his blog at pastormatthewbest.com. A version of this piece was first posted there.